Jon reveals “I’ve learnt this recently and am a bit torn whether to use the ‘sinking’ verse or not although I’ve left it in for now though. I quite like the ‘what hills’ verses being more abstract – more like he’s an actual demon taking her directly to Hell.”
Another in the Child collection (#243) also known as The Demon Lover and James Harris (Herries) this is one of those ballads that seems to have it all and was widely known in C17th, although is probably based on a much older story. Despite that it was printed as a broadside with the very specific detail of “A Warning for Married Women, being an example of Mrs. Jane Reynolds (a West-country woman), born near Plymouth, who, having plighted her troth to a Seaman, was afterwards married to a Carpenter, and at last carried away by a Spirit, the manner how shall be presently recited.” If you follow that story line then the first example from Child that you’ll see here seems to be absolutely on the mark. Whether it relates to an actual historical scandal (possibly the talk of the town) of a woman leaving her family behind and sailing off into the sunset is questionable. The appearance of her former fiancé as a spirit seems somewhat fanciful to be a report of a real event. More likely it’s another moralising tale or fable. It certainly makes sense of why in some versions the lady, once led astray, pays the ultimate price and is damned to Hell. That to me feels like an old folk tale or myth being retold, but also where, not for the first time, an empty shelf in the knowledge bank does for my extemporizing. Perhaps someone can help me out and link it to Greek or Norse myth or something even more exotic. Besides like Jon I’m rather fond of the verses that he’s included relating to hills of Heaven and Hell, which provide a poetic lift. You probably want to have a quick look at Mainly Norfolk for Bert’s notes from whence the above quote is lifted, plus some other bits. Mudcat here seems to have the lyric set that Jon follows. A quick Wiki here will also reveal the astonishing number of recorded versions of this. I think through all of that I’d have to agree with Bert’s comments that the Scottish versions seem to play up the supernatural element and thus have the greater drama and “better texts”.